Let us help you choose what to see in Florence in one day
One should always try to dedicate more than one day to any of the world’s great cities, Florence included. With this premise, if you’ve got to do it, let us help you choose what to see so that you make the most out of your limited time.
Let’s start with what NOT to do. If you only have one day in this city, don’t go to the Uffizi. This may sound like a sacrilege! The Uffizi is one of the most important museums on Earth and, of course, it’s really big.
So it’s better this time to focus on something else; this one day-itinerary we’re proposing is almost museum-free. Assuming you’re arriving and departing by train at Santa Maria Novella central station, we suggest that you go first to the other side of town, then work your way back towards the station.
Try to arrive early to make the most of your day. When creating an itinerary for yourself or making changes to this one, it’s important to find out the opening hours of whatever churches or museums you want to visit.
Morning: Santa Croce and Duomo (and lunch!)
The Church of Santa Croce is a good starting point because it’s testimony to the Gothic period of architecture in Italy (quite different from the French) and to the presence of the Franciscan order in 13th-century Florence. Don’t miss thefrescoes by Giotto in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels (the latter in very bad condition but these are some of the earliest, not to mention most important, frescoes in Florence), the tombs and memorials of famous Tuscans including Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo, the Pazzi chapel by Brunelleschi and the small museum housed in the refectory that has Taddeo Gaddi’s Tree of Life on one wall.
Take a break now and stop at the new Oblate Public Library to have a coffee on the terrace, with one of the best view of the dome of the Florence’s Cathedral.
Next, head to Piazza del Duomo. See the Cathedral, Giotto’s campanile (bell-tower) and the baptistery, from the outside.
Then, enter the tourist information office which is located in the square (at the corner of Via Calzaiuoli) and book a free visit to the adjacent Bigallo Museum. This little precious museum contains works, paintings and sculptures, that once belonged to the Compagnia Maggiore di Santa Maria del Bigallo, like a fresco produced by the workshop of Bernardo Daddi in 1342 - Madonna della Misericordia - featuring the oldest known depiction of Florence, in which we can recognize the baptistery and the incomplete facade of the Cathedral.
Head to San Lorenzo area for lunch, which could be lampredotto at the traditional vendor inside the covered market or a bistecca fiorentina at a local trattoria. Or, if you want to keep light in order to get right back out there to see more stuff, pick up a panino (sandwich) at any bar. Knock back an espresso coffee because there’s plenty more to see, you don’t want to be sleepy!
Afternoon: churches and shopping
Since you’re already in the San Lorenzo area, you’d better stop into the Church of San Lorenzo! This is the first whole building designed by Brunelleschi, who first did the facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti and then the cupola of the Duomo – both projects that he didn’t start. On the other hand, San Lorenzo and the church in the Oltrarno of Santo Spirito are both projects that he didn’t finish! You take your pick. This church makes a lovely contrast to Santa Croce because it’s in the new Renaissance style, characterized by the harmonious alternation of grey pietra serena stone architectural accents and white wall.
At this point you deserve a break, stroll down either via Roma or via Calzaiuoli for a bit of shopping. You’ll find yourself in Piazza della Signoria in front of Palazzo Vecchio, the city’s seat of government. The David out there is a copy but there’s no time to fit the Accademia into this schedule – unless you want to go right now! Usually there’s not much of a line in the late afternoon. Do go into the open loggia (building with arches out front) on the far end of the piazza – this is the Loggia dei’ Lanzi and it contains mostly original sculpture including Cellini’s bronze Perseus and Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines.
From here, walk to the end of the Uffizi buildings to the Arno and catch a view of the river and the Ponte Vecchio. If it’s winter the sun will be setting which always makes for a beautiful photo. Not exhausted yet? On the way back to the station, take via della Porta Rossa to via Tornabuoni – the luxury shopping street – and hop into the church of Santa Trinita where you’ll be rewarded by a beautiful fresco by Ghirlandaio. Look carefully at the backgrounds of each scene as you should recognize some of these locations – you’ve seen them today! The church closes at 5.45pm. As an alternative to the shopping and the smaller church, you could also finish your afternoon at the church of Santa Maria Novella. It’s a Gothic structure just like Santa Croce (although slightly later), but it has a Renaissance facade by the great architect Alberti. It houses the important fresco known as Masaccio’s Trinity that is one of the first major studies in scientific perspective.
Themonumental complex of Santa Maria Novella can be visited with a single ticket including the Basilica, the Museum, the Cloisters - Cloister of the Dead, Green Cloister - the Spanish Chapel, the Ubriachi Chapel, the Refectory.
This itinerary is surely missing some gems like the Bargello, San Marco, or the Accademy Gallery, which could easily be incorporated into this itinerary. It’s true – try to add those if you can, if the opening hours fit your day, and if you happen to be inexhaustible! But if you’ve never been to Florence, or if you have limited time, this is a great start!